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Teacher's apology letter for slavery assignment read at Freeport board meeting

Freeport School Superintendent Kishore Kuncham, with the Freeport

Freeport School Superintendent Kishore Kuncham, with the Freeport school board, during their meeting on Tuesday. Photo Credit: Newsday / Steve Pfost

A teacher who told Freeport middle school students in social studies classes to "make it funny and don't bore me" after asking them to write captions for pictures of African American slaves has apologized for the assignment, district Superintendent Kishore Kuncham said Tuesday night.

The teacher is on the faculty at J.W. Dodd Middle School, Kuncham said during a meeting of the Freeport school board.

"Aside from the fact that this is a poor lesson," Kuncham said, "it is an insensitive trivialization of the deeply painful era for African Americans in this country and it is unacceptable."

The teacher, who was not identified at the meeting, was removed from the classroom while school district officials conducted an investigation, the superintendent said.

A grandmother made the allegation Friday on Facebook. Her post was accompanied by four photos of slaves.

"My granddaughter who is in the eighth grade contacted me last night — She said her friend’s social studies teacher gave a class assignment to 'write something funny' about these pictures on slavery — and make it real funny because she didn’t want to be bored. My granddaughter’s friend refused to write anything 'funny,' " the grandmother wrote.

The woman then wrote that her granddaughter is still upset and asked how "this racist teacher" would be reprimanded.

Kuncham said the teacher gave the assignment to three separate classes on Thursday. Several parents contacted the school principal as well as Kuncham's office to complain and an investigation began Friday morning and lasted until Tuesday, he said.

Kuncham read a statement from the teacher that said in part: "It is with the deepest sense of respect that I apologize to the students, families and larger Freeport community for my insensitive words and actions last week. As a teacher and fellow member of this school community, it's my responsibility to exercise the highest degree of care and thought with all of my student and faculty interactions."

The district is working with the teacher and her union representative to "finalize an agreement," Kuncham said. He did not provide details about the agreement or whether the teacher will return to class.

Diane Jackson, a Freeport resident whose children went through the district, said she was horrified by what she heard about the assignment and that's why she attended Tuesday's meeting. Jackson said she didn't think an apology was enough but she would leave it to the school board to make a final determination.

"How in the world could she even think that was all right in her right or left mind?" Jackson said to the board during public comments. "There are some children that don't have a force field of protection around them that believe that whatever a teacher says to them is truth, so when they took that assignment home and started to write something funny they had no idea of how disgraceful and rude and demeaning that was."

Another parent demanded to know what steps the board was taking to hire more black teachers. Kuncham answered that the district is actively looking to hire more black and Hispanic teachers. He said 65 percent of students in the district are Hispanic.

School Board member Ronald J. Ellerbe, a former civil rights officer with the NYPD, said all necessary actions are being taken to address the issue.

"I'm sensitive and this board is sensitive to the issues," he said. "Probably more so. Without going too far, I'm concerned about anyone who would make derogatory and discriminatory comments to young children."

With John Valenti

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